Sermon for Christ the King Sunday

Here we are again. It’s another glorious Sunday at Trinity Cathedral. Here we are in this magnificent neo-gothic building, that looks like a piece of heaven (when I gave someone a tour recently, they looked around and said: “wow, this is, like, legit!” I figure Bishop Clarkson, who had the original vision for a cathedral in Omaha, enjoyed that response). It’s another Sunday of beautiful music, made all the more so by the presence of a world-class vocal ensemble. Here I am, once again dressed up in this fancy costume that has been adapted from what important muckety-mucks wore in ancient Rome.

It seems like an appropriate backdrop for the picture Jesus paints at the beginning of today’s gospel lesson. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.” The scene is regal, majestic, ornamented by angelic beauty and singing. The king proceeds to do what kings do: he doles out reward and punishment; separates the good from the bad. But then there’s a surprise twist. The basis of judgment isn’t whether the laws were obeyed, whether folks were loyal patriots or plotting traitors. The basis of judgment is how the king himself was treated, not in the present royal setting, but in the hungry, the sick, the prisoners, the ones who would seem most out of place in that glorious setting.

The sheep are as surprised by their righteousness as the goats are by their judgment. Both the sheep and the goats are surprised that they already knew the king, and even more, by where the king chooses to hang out.

It’s a remarkable little story that makes the incredible claim that we meet God most fully in need, we see God’s strength most clearly in weakness, and we know God’s comfort most intensely in suffering. It’s not just that the king is mindful of the poor, that he’s a nice guy with liberal social policies, it’s that the king is the poor, the king is hungry, the lonely, the person in the orange prison jumpsuit.

Today is the feast of Christ the King, and we are called to be mindful of two things on this day: 1) our primary citizenship is in Jesus’ kingdom, our primary allegiance is to God’s rule of love, and 2) this kingdom we belong to is the opposite of all the other kingdoms and nations out there. In Jesus, God doesn’t come into the world with guns blazing. In Jesus, God doesn’t rule the world by controlling the most wealth, or by inspiring fear in his enemies. In Jesus, God enters the world in a cold barn. In Jesus, God saves the world by being executed by the state.

Here’s why I stick with the Way of Jesus: because it promises that we don’t just meet God in the beautiful and the majestic, in peaceful contemplation or in the richness of our prayers. We meet God in the dirty, in the broken, in the unfixable, in the mess of our world and our lives. We meet God in the struggles in our families, in the chaos of the workday, in the heartache of loss. We meet God in need and in weakness, both others’ and our own.

We act out the subversive irony of today’s gospel lesson each and every week. A lot of people work really hard every week to create worship in beauty and splendor in here, but we do it so that we can make the same beauty through love and mercy and justice out there. We create a space to meet God in here so that we can recognize and care for God out there.

I’m so proud of how we’re playing that out here at Trinity. Today is evidence that we’ve certainly got the beauty thing down. But more and more, we’re also spinning out to color the world around us with God’s justice and love. We do this by sharing food in this same space with homeless who come for lunch each month. We do this through providing friendship, or education, or clothing for the refugees at the Yates Center, who are fleeing trauma we can’t even imagine. We do this through our newest initiative—the Suitcase Project—to provide critical care and clothing and supplies to the victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. We do these things because that’s where Jesus is to be found and known. That’s where God is. How would it change you to look at every suffering person who you know or who you come across as if they were Jesus?

I’ll end with a quote from Bishop Frank Weston, who in 1923 offered a great statement of what I think we’re really striving to live out here at Trinity. He said, “You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slum. . .And it is folly—it is madness—to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the Throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children. It cannot be done.”[1] As we have been made citizens of Christ’s kingdom, pray that we might use our lives to join God as he continues to raid the world with love, justice, and peace. Amen.

[1] “Our Present Duty.” Concludig Address, Anglo-Catholic Congress, 1923

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Sermon for All Saints Sunday

My first position as a priest was serving four small congregations on the Rosebud Reservation in Southwestern South Dakota. It was a remarkable experience, and enriched my own life and faith in immeasurable ways. One of the most important things about Lakota culture is their understanding of family. In the first place, family is given the highest possible importance. While a lot of people in the wider American culture like to say family is their top priority, I’ve never known anyone who actually walks that talk more than the Lakota. Family activities, obligations, and needs take absolute precedence over anything else.

Family is also understood much more broadly than most of us are used to. So for example, your third cousin, twice removed by marriage, is simply your cousin. And a child’s grandparents aren’t just her parents’ parents, but all of their siblings and cousins as well. They’re all just known as “grandma” or “grandpa.” Family is critically important, and who counts as family is almost without limit.

During the summer months, a powwow is held somewhere almost every weekend. If you’ve never been to one, a powwow is essentially a family picnic with five hundred people, where there is singing, dancing, eating, honoring community leaders, celebrating accomplishments, mourning losses, and all kinds of similar activities. At one powwow, I was talking to an older woman who was sitting off by herself, and she told me that what she loved most about powwows was just sitting there, imagining all of her departed relatives that she was just certain were there celebrating with all the living ones.

Experiencing the Lakota understanding of family really shaped how I think about what Christians call the communion of saints. The communion of saints is our belief that, through baptism, we are brought into this huge family, which consists of our local congregation, but also all the other Christians in the world, and all the other Christians throughout history. The communion of saints reminds us that the bonds of this family transcend the boundaries of life and death, so that we continue to be in real relationship with all those who have gone before us, those we have known and those we have not know.

Today is the feast of All Saints, which is the day we’re invited to remember all of this, to remember that we belong to this vast family that spans time and geography and ethnicity and language, this family that cannot even be broken by death. It’s a day when we’re invited to remember and celebrate the larger than life and heroic saints we didn’t know: A St. Francis of Assisi who inspires with a vision of radical love and simple living, a Saint Julian of Norwich who comforts us with the mantra: “All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” But it’s also a day when we’re invited to remember and celebrate and give thanks for the more ordinary saints that we have known: a Jack Fricke, or Gloria Dunbar, a parent, or a child, or a grandparent, whoever in our lives has shown us something more of God’s endless love.

Our gospel lesson today reminds us that saints aren’t just the super holy, the overly pious and perfectly put together. Jesus tells a crowd of poor, discarded, broken, desperate people “blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the meek. . .” All these are blessed because it is precisely in our weakness, when we have reached our limits, that God’s power and love can really be known. So the real saints aren’t those people who are perfect. The real saints are those people who in the depth of their brokenness, in the depth of their sickness, and grief, and suffering, and failings, have allowed the love of God to embrace them, have allowed the mercy of God to comfort them, have allowed the power of God to transform them.

This communion of saints, this vast family that we’re a part of, isn’t a family of people who are perfectly polished. It’s a family of people who allowed God’s love to shine through their brokenness. It’s a family of people who know, who know, that God’s love can forgive the worst we do, God’s power can overcome our most crippling weakness, God’s life can overcome even the death the separates us from each other. That’s what being a saint is about. That’s what this family is about.

Today we’re baptizing Canon Clanton, and what I love about baptizing on All Saints Day is that on the day we are reminded of just what kind of family we are, we adopt a new member of it. Today we are giving witness to the fact that no matter what happens in Canon’s life, no matter what curveballs he is thrown, no matter what hardships knock him around, no matter what successes he enjoys or failures he regrets, God’s love will not let him go. We’re promising to remind Canon of that truth, and someone has promised to do that for each and every one of us.

Every time we gather for worship, that whole family gathers with us. We pray it every week, “therefore with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven.” And they really do join us. The woman I spoke with at that powwow in South Dakota knew it. She took enormous strength, and courage, and comfort from what she knew deeply to be true. We’re invited to do the same; to sit today, to remember all those whose lives have shown us God’s power and love, to give thanks for them, to remember that they are really here with us, challenging us to live lives that show that same love and power and grace in our own day. Amen.